Monday, July 05, 2010

Weekend Videos – Top Rated Shows 1960-1964

Based on the schedule I set up for myself, I should have put these videos up last week when I didn't post any videos. The problem had a lot to do with my getting sick the weekend before last, which in turn led me to have certain problems with my right leg: extreme pain tends to keep me from getting stuff done. Feeling a lot better now, and in fact I felt a lot better earlier this week when I wrote my feelings about that atrocious game show Downfall.

Just to reiterate what is going on here, about two months ago I started posting clips from the highest rated shows overall for each year, done in five year increments. The first part of this dealt with the 1950-51 to the 1954-55 season while the second part dealt with the 1955-56 to 1959-60 season. The "rules" that I am forcing onto myself are these: I will list the top three shows for each season along with the percentage of the nation's televisions that were tuned to that show during the season. These figures are drawn from the Complete Directory To Prime Time Network And Cable TV Shows 1946-Present. If the season's top rated show has already been featured either in this post or in the previous post in this series I'll find a clip from the second highest rated show, provided that it also hasn't been featured before, or the third highest rated show if the first and second place shows have been featured, and so on. The same procedure holds true if there are no clips of the show available online. I will be including the overall rating for the show. Previously I've expressed these in percentages however in 1960 the way that A.C. Nielsen calculated ratings changed and I'm not sure that percentages is a precisely accurate manner in which to describe these numbers. Finally as before I will be including my own comments about the shows.


Gunsmoke 37.3, Wagon Train 34.2, Have Gun Will Travel 30.9, The Andy Griffith Show 27.8

This is the first, and maybe the only, time that I have to go to the fourth place show. This was the fourth (and final) season in a row that Gunsmoke was in first place and the third season in a row that Wagon Train and Have Gun Will Travel were in second and third place respectively. But that's fine because it gives us the chance to look at one of the greatest family situation comedies ever made, The Andy Griffith Show. Created as a backdoor pilot out of Make Room For Daddy (aka The Danny Thomas Show) the series combined small-town charm and eccentricity in the form of Mayberry and it's residents (I almost said denizens) with the heartwarming family relationship between Sheriff Andy Taylor, his son Opie, his Aunt Bee, and cousin Barney Fife. A big part of the show in this early period was the relationship between Griffith's Andy Taylor and Don Knotts's Barney Fife. The show reunited Griffith and Knotts who had appeared together on Broadway and in the movie version of No Room For Sergeants. One interesting thing that people interested in trivia like my blogging buddy Ivan G. Shreve Jr. will be aware of is that the show featured Doc Adams and Chester from Gunsmoke... the radio version, Howard McNear and Parley Baer respectively. This Season Three clip features Parley Baer as Mayor Stoner.


Wagon Train 32.1, Bonanza 30.0, Gunsmoke 28.3

Bonanza debuted in 1959 but didn't even crack the top ten – let alone the top three – until the 1961-62 season. This coincided with the show's move from Saturday night to Sunday. The show was an immediate hit in its new time slot, opposite GE Theater and The Jack Benny Show on CBS. The elements of the show success were all in place; the family relationship between Lorne Greene's Ben Cartwright and his three adult sons Adam (Pernell Roberts), "Hoss" (Dan Blocker), and "Little" Joe (Michael Landon), all of them the children of different mothers. What set Bonanza apart from most westerns and probably accounted for its long life was that it was primarily interested in relationships – between the Cartwrights and with other people – rather than focused on the sort of shoot'em up action that was the major aspect of most westerns. The show didn't shy away from comedic episodes either. This clip tends to support that contention


Beverly Hillbillies 36.0, Candid Camera 31.1, The Red Skelton Show 31.1, Bonanza 29.8, The Lucy Show 29.8

The dominance of the Western was finally broken by a silly little comedy that probably inaugurated the era that I like to describe as the "gimmick" sitcom. Instead of being about "happy" but normal middle clase families dealing with each other, the "gimmick" sitcoms all had, well a gimmick. The "gimmick" for The Beverly Hillbillies was a pretty simple one, the classic "fish out of water." No fish were as far out of their own patch of water as the Clampetts from the Ozark country – I don't think it's really established where the Clampetts originated from although Granny frequently mentions Tennessee and there are later indicators that they were living in southern Missouri – suffice it to say that they were from so far back of beyond that the results of many Presidential elections hadn't reached them. The contrasts were obvious, between the sophisticated city people, personified by banker Milburn Drysdale, his highly educated (and therefore grossly overqualified) secretary Jane Hathaway, and the snooty social climbing Mrs. Drysdale, and the backwoods Clampetts. The show maintained its popularity even as the Clampetts became increasingly more sophisticated (relatively – they did learn about large appliances, dial telephones, and many of the other aspects of modern life) by emphasising the caricature characters; Jethro's stupidity all while thinking he's the most sophisticated member of the family, Milburn Dyrsdale's insatiable greed, and Granny's ongoing feud against anything modern and in particular her neighbour Margaret Drysdale. The show was becoming increasingly tired, and was losing audience when it was cancelled in CBS's 1971 "rural purge" (it finished 18th in the 1970-71 season), but would probably have survived until the end of 1973 and the death of Irene Ryan. The clip I have here includes one of my favourite minor characters, Jethro's twin sister Jethrine, as well as Sonny Drysdale, played by Louis Nye. (One final note: the original theme music performed by Flatt and Scruggs is under copyright and none of the clips I've managed to find include the original theme music.)


Beverly Hillbillies 39.1, Bonanza 36.9, The Dick Van Dyke Show 33.3

The total opposite of The Beverly Hillbillies was The Dick Van Dyke Show. The series had no gimmick beyond the split between work and home. The show was based on Carl Reiner's experience while working with Sid Caesar, although the character of Alan Brady is less Caesar and more of a combination of Milton Berle and Jackie Gleason according to Reiner. There are two distinctive sets of characters between the work and home stories, although they often overlapped. At work, Van Dyke's character Rob Petrie was surrounded by his fellow writers Sally Rogers (Rose Marie) and Buddy Sorrell (Morey Amsterdam), the Alan Brady Show's milquetoast producer Mel Cooley (Richard Deacon) and star Alan Brady (Reiner). At home Rob was dealing with his wife Laura (Mary Tyler Moore), son Richie (Larry Matthews), and neighbours Jerry and Millie Helper (Jerry Paris and Anne Morgan Guilbert). The two sides weren't mutually exclusive of course since Rob's friends from work would often come to New Rochelle to visit, and of course Laura would often come to New York and even work on the show. There was a genuine chemistry between the various actors, the biggest being between Rob & Laura/Dick & Mary. The great puzzle today of course is how – and why – a man married to the undeniably sexy Laura Petrie (who wore those Capri Pants to far greater effect on the male libido including the young Rob Reiner – than Lucille Ball ever managed) would have twin beds. One of the great riddles of television to be sure. This office based clip features an appearance by the show's producer, Old Time Radio favourite Sheldon Leonard.


Bonanza 36.3, Bewitched 31.0, Gomer Pyle - USMC 30.7

Bewitched took the idea of the "gimmick" comedy a step further. Samantha Stevens (Elizabeth Montgomery) seemed like an ordinary housewife, but in fact she was a witch whose mortal husband Darrin (Dick York, and later Dick Sargent) wanted to stop using her witchly powers. There are those of us who feel that making this demand showed how big a Dick Darrin really was, and certainly if the show had been created even ten or fifteen years later at the heights of feminism she would have told him where he could stick his demands, but if Samantha had been free to use her witchcraft unfettered we probably wouldn't have had a show. As it was, Samantha tried her best to fit into the normal suburban lifestyle. It wasn't easy. For one thing using witchcraft was as much a part of Samantha's life as writing ad copy was for her husband. For another thing there were Samantha's relatives from her mother Endora to her Uncle Arthur, her look-alike cousin Serena, and her Aunt Clara (the only member of Samantha's family that Darrin actually liked) none of whom really understood why Samantha was going along with this. In this clip (one of the few Black & White Season One clips I can find – most of the season one material that has been posted features colorized episodes of the show), Samantha immerses herself in local political affairs, with a politician who might just have another kind of affair on his mind.

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